Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 3 of 4

In a perfect world, mes auteurs, the writing business (like all businesses, enterprises, systems, &c) would be entirely meritocratic: everyone would get a fair shake, the best writing would be selected for publication, and talent, discipline, and hard work would pay off regardless of extraneous factors like luck, emotion, nepotism, and social status.

Alas, dear friends, we do not live in a perfect world.

Because of this, you have to do something besides read great books and write great books if you want to increase your odds of getting published: you have to network. And, as the name might imply, networking is... well, work. Details? Why, sure, if you insist.

1. Networking is necessary. While some of you may have a strong negative—yea, perhaps even visceral—reaction to the prospect of spending any of your writerly energies doing anything apart from reading and writing, you need to understand that networking is a necessary part of the writer's life.

Think of it this way: if you're interviewing two candidates who are more or less identical on paper and equally impress you in person, are you going to go with the candidate who was initially recommended to you by your Most Trusted Bro, or the guy who walked in because he saw your ad on Exactly. And, unsurprisingly, agents think the same way. This goes back to what I was saying two weeks ago about who you know: there's a certain amount of prerequsite what (read: good writing) you've got to have, and after that, it's all who.

This is absolutely not to say that you must know someone in the industry in order to get published. All I'm saying is that the more people you know, the more doors you'll open to opportunities that you might otherwise have missed by being an unknown quantity.

2. Chances are, you know someone. Think about the people you might have a connection to in the industry. Does your best friend have an agent? Is your fraternity brother working in the industry? Do you have friends of friends in mfa programs, literary agencies, independent book stores? Is your aunt a book conference junkie? &c &c. Make a list of the people who you could reasonably ask about the industry, representation, getting your foot in the door, and so on. I'm willing to bet you'll come up with more than you might at first expect.

3. If it turns out you know no one, don't despair. Okay, let's say I'm wrong and you know absolutely no one in the industry (worse, you don't even know of anyone who might even be related to the industry in the most tangential way). You're not doomed if you query agents to whom you haven't been recommended or haven't met at conferences, so long as you follow their guidelines and send them a well-crafted query. In fact, if you get a "close, but no thanks" e-mail from one of them, you can refer to this if and when you query them with a different project down the line.

In the meantime—and if you can afford it—consider attending conferences, readings, workshops, and other literary events, and do your best to meet industry insiders (authors, agents, editors, librarians, sales(ahem)people, &c) and develop strong professional relationships with them. The publishing industry isn't really as impossibly huge as you might think, and any given person who's been in it for a few years will have a lot of connections that might come in handy when you're trying to sell your book.

4. Relationships require upkeep. A quick note on the above: all relationships require work, and professional relationships (especially in this industry) are no exception. If your friend lands your dream agent, don't let jealousy consume you: foster your relationship with that friend, ask about him or her, trade work, and hopefully down the line he or she will be able to help you get representation via recommendation to his/her agent, getting you in touch with an agent or editor who may be interested in your work, and so on.

The flip side of this issue is: don't be creepy. Don't reply to form rejections from agents in an attempt to be Super Best Bros. Don't pitch your MS to agents or editors at/in inappropriate times/places (e.g. the bathroom at T.G.I. Friday's). Don't corner your friend of a friend's girlfriend's brother's former roommate at a party because he once worked at a publishing house after college. You get the idea.

That's all I've got for today, bros and she-bros. If you have any comments/questions/epiphanies/ideas/vitriol/profound insights/divine revelations, you know where to go.


  1. Loved simply for Super Best Bros. It's a good point but an even better phrase.

    Great advice. Thanks Eric.

  2. Another fabulous post, E. Keep 'em coming!

  3. Do you think you could lay off the she-bros. It's kinda like referring to a woman as a not-man... try being a little more creative, the women in your life, with more than two brain-cells to rub together, will thank you... as will I

  4. Widdershins,

    That certainly wasn't my intent, and I apologize if I offended you; the term "she-bros" is clearly intended as a joke. That said, if you don't find my particular brand of humor entertaining, you needn't read the blog.

    Thanks & all best,


  5. I don't know anyone in the industry. I have to write that "I've Just Made An Agent See God" query letter. And it sucks.

    And Eric, I like being called a she-bro. :)

  6. Good post -- I think it's especially important to remember that networking is more than just hoping that you know someone famous. I'm on friendly terms with the guy who owns my local comic book store, so I casually asked him one day if he thought my book (a zombie choose-your-own-adventure) would be a good fit for shops like his, and how I might contact Diamond Comics, the sole distributor for his industry.

    He told me that Diamond was a tough nut to crack, but they also owned a company that distributes to game shops, and my project (technically classified as a gamebook) would be perfect for them. I contacted them, they loved it, and now I'm in the catalog of both the parent company and the subsidiary -- fully half the book's sales to date have been through this distributor.

    So I'd say my most important contact hasn't been anybody at a publisher or an agency, but a friend at the comic book store who knew more about the industry than I did!

  7. Another tip - if money's tight, look at local conferences. Yes, they're smaller, but the likelihood of one-on-one time with industry professionals is far greater.

  8. A good way to start networking is by joining the local chapter of a writers' association that focuses on the genre you are writing in and/or going to book launches, readings of local writers etc.,